Bell Tolls in Torrid Three-Way Battle for ASCS Gulf South Title TULSA, Okla. (November 16, 2004) - When two-time and defending series champion Kelly Angelette opted not pursue a third consecutive crown in 2004, the regular forces on the Love's...
Bell Tolls in Torrid Three-Way Battle for ASCS Gulf South Title
TULSA, Okla. (November 16, 2004) - When two-time and defending series champion Kelly Angelette opted not pursue a third consecutive crown in 2004, the regular forces on the Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores American Sprint Car Series Gulf South Regional tour knew the door had been opened.
But who would be the one to burst through that open door to snare the abdicated title?
With increased masses chasing the crown, as a dozen drivers competed in at least two-thirds of the 16-event campaign, the championship picture was murky at best in the early stages. While Todd Johnson, Scottie McDonald, Ray Allen Kulhanek and Brad Stokes all seemed poised at times to vie for the title, by the end of the sixth event three names had risen to the top: Greg Rilat, Chris Sweeney and Jerry Bell.
Those three would occupy the top three positions to the bitter end, seesawing back and forth in intense fashion for the point lead as the balance of the top ten swapped positions on a race-by-race basis.
Rilat had been close to the Gulf South championship before, snaring runner-up honors in '03 as he watched Angelette walk off the stage with the winning hardware.
Sweeney had been in contention before as well, only to have either engine woes or crashes sideline his efforts in each of the previous two seasons.
Enter Bell, a newcomer to the series. Not a "rookie" in the true sense of the word, but it was Bell's first concentrated effort on the Gulf South title after four top-ten feature finishes in four 2003 Gulf South outings and a racing career that spans seventeen years.
Rilat led the championship chase beyond the halfway point before Sweeney took brief command. But it was Bell taking over in the latter stages and holding on until the end to capture the championship, with a mere 40 markers separating the top three.
Although shut out of victory lane, Bell rode to the title on the strength of five runner-up finishes, outdistancing Sweeney by just 24 markers in the final tally. Rilat settled for the show position, just 16 markers back.
Lost in the mix was the strong effort turned in by Ray Allen Kulhanek, who climbed to fourth in points despite missing the fourth event of the season at Haughton, LA, when his car owner was hospitalized. Kulhanek roared back in strong fashion, matching Bell and Sweeney with a series-best eleven top ten finishes. Just 130 points off Bell's final total, a ninth place finish or better in the missed Haughton outing would have been enough for Kulhanek to climb to the top.
Todd Johnson of Eunice, LA, the 2002 points runner-up who was in the thick of the chase until a tough Waco outing on June 18, finished fifth to prevent a Texas sweep of the top five (with Bell from Rowlett, Sweeney from Humble, Rilat from Texas City and Kulhanek from Conroe).
Brad Stokes of Kountze, TX, was as high as fourth in points early in the year before settling for sixth, while Stephen Chevallier of Downsville, LA, overcame early season woes to climb to fifth before a tough final weekend knocked him back to seventh. Scottie McDonald of Porter, TX, ranked among the top five much of the way before settling for eighth, with Richard Holt of McLoud, TX, and Rod Craddock of Alvin, TX, completing the top ten.
A total of 105 drivers competed in at least one of the 16 events contested at nine different tracks throughout Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas over the course of the 2004 season, with eleven different drivers scoring feature victories. ASCS Sooner Region invader Kevin Ramey topped the win charts with four wins, while Angelette and Travis Rilat each notched a pair of wins. Single victories went to Sam Hafertepe, Jr., Greg Rilat, Claud Estes, Eric Payne, Chevallier, Charlie Brown, Gary Wright and Jason Johnson.
More information regarding the American Sprint Car Series is available at www.ascsracing.com.